‘Nasty, diabolical’ attempt to muzzle media in Kerala: IPI on State’s Police Act amendment

The International Press Institute on Monday condemned the Kerala government’s Ordinance making a controversial amendment to the State Police Act, saying it was a “nasty and diabolical” attempt to muzzle the media in the State.

The Vienna-based International Press Institute’s India chapter said the Kerala Ordinance introducing a new section in the Kerala Police Act providing for three years imprisonment for publishing “any matter which is threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory” across all media is perhaps the most serious assault on freedom of expression in decades.

The IPI India’s strong criticism came on a day the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic government in Kerala put on hold the implementation of the controversial amendment to the State Police Act citing criticism from various quarters.

In a statement issued by N. Ravi, Chairman, Indian National Committee, International Press Institute, the IPI demanded that Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan should immediately rescind this Ordinance which it said was an “unconstitutional and illegal attempt to curtail freedoms guaranteed under the Indian Constitution”.

The International Press Institute “condemns and vehemently opposes in the strongest terms, the black ordinance promulgated” in Kerala, which makes “gravest” legalised assault on the freedom of expression and freedom of press, the statement said.

“In its reach and scope for mischief, it is far worse than the anti-defamation bill sought to be introduced by the Union government and several State governments in the 1980s but was beaten back by nationwide media and public protests,” the IPI India said.

The context and the circumstances make it clear that the Ordinance is a “blatant attempt” to silence critics of the government rather than protect any vulnerable group, at a time when the State government’s policies and actions are being scrutinised by the media and the people, which is a democratic right, the IPI India said.

“The Ordinance is a nasty and diabolical attempt to muzzle the media in Kerala,” it said.

Noting that the criminal defamation law in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code is “bad enough”, the IPI India said the Supreme Court of India has upheld its constitutional validity on the reasoning that with the ten exceptions to defamation listed in the section, it strikes a fair balance between the right to free speech and the protection of reputations.

The Kerala government Ordinance does not provide for even such minimal protection of free speech and it is difficult to see how it will pass constitutional muster, the IPI India said.

“But even before legal challenges are decided in courts, the Ordinance can be used by the police, the State government and the ruling politicians to do enormous mischief and irrevocable damage to targeted media organisations, editors, reporters, cartoonists and publishers,” the statement said.

Besides, the terms “threatening”, “abusive” and “humiliating” used in the Ordinance are vague and overbroad, lending themselves to abuse of power and arbitrary prosecution, and the ordinance suffers from the same vices that led the Supreme Court to strike down Sec 66A of the Information Technology Act, the IPI India said.

“Ironically, a similar section of the Kerala Police Act was also struck down by the Supreme Court on the ground of vagueness,” it said. The IPI India urged the Kerala government to respect democratic freedoms and withdraw the “unconstitutional and anti-freedom ordinance without delay”.

The International Press Institute (IPI) is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists who share a common dedication to quality and independent journalism. “Our mission is to defend media freedom and the free flow of news wherever they are threatened,” the IPI States on its website.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 11:49:34 PM |

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